A recently released report by ALL in Education shares what has hurt Latino students’ academic achievement over the years, and provides ideas on how community members, businesses, nonprofits, and policymakers can address those factors to help students succeed and keep the state’s economy strong.
Education, business, and nonprofit leaders shared the results of “MAPA 2022: The State of Arizona Latino Education, Power and Influence” during a presentation at the Phoenix Zoo on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
“It’s important for us to be able to tell our own story, to own our own narrative, and more importantly to come up with some great solutions,” said Monica Villalobos, president & CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who moderated he event.
There have always been key factors that impact students outside the classroom that impact their ability to learn inside the classroom, said Stephanie Parra, executive director of ALL in Education.
Among these social determinants of education are poverty, access to quality healthcare, food insecurity, immigration, mental health, access to safe and affordable housing, access to employment, the economy, disciplinary practices and the school to prison pipeline, and the climate and environment, Parra said.
“We know that if a child is hungry, if they are worried about where they’re going to sleep tonight, if they are worried about whether or not their parents are under threat of deportation – all of those social emotional factors that impact a child’s well-being – they’re not going to be ready for teaching and learning at eight o’clock in the morning if they have these underlying things that they are stressed and overwhelmed with,” Parra said.
That is why nonprofit organizations, business leaders, policy makers and community members are coming together to address these factors and develop solutions to help all students succeed so as today’s students become tomorrow’s workforce and leaders, Arizona’s economy will continue to grow and remain strong, Parra said.
One of those solutions is a 10-month series that ALL in Education will launch through their community conversations to unpack the social determinants of education with a generous sponsorship from the Garcia Family, Parra said.
YouTube video: MAPA 2022 summit
Pandemic’s effect on students’ proficiency
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated employment and housing concerns and when learning shifted online “families were concerned about special education, English language learners and other at-risk populations” falling further behind, said Jeff Zetino, research, and policy director for ALL in Education.
In October 2021, the Arizona Department of Education released the results of the state assessment from last year.
“While we acknowledge that the data isn’t complete and that not all students participated in it, it’s still extremely concerning, because we were already entering the pandemic and the school closures with gaps in attainment,” Parra said.
“As you can see in the drops in proficiency, all students were ultimately impacted,” Parra said. “The gap is now wider for Latino students, special education and English Language Learners – those communities that we were most concerned about going into the pandemic.”
These gaps did not happen overnight, and “they’re not because Latino students don’t have the same capacity to learn as their white and affluent peers,” Zetino said.
“It’s because of years of bad decisions and bad policy,” Zetino said.
It’s important to prioritize Latino students in Arizona, because 65 percent of elementary students are Latino, Parra said.
Representation gap in education
In addition, there is a gap in representation, while Latinos make up 45% of the K-12 population, “we’re only 14% of state education board members, 16% of school administrators and 16% of the teaching workforce,” Parra said.
“If we are going to close the opportunity gaps that exist in the education system, our theory at ALL in Education is that we have to start by closing the representation gap,” Parra said. “We need more leaders of color who reflect and represent the community in decision-making roles,” Parra said.
This is key because 75% of Latinos graduate from Arizona high schools in four years, 22% of those students enroll in a four-year college program and only 54% of those students graduate from college, Zetino said.Increasing the number of students who enroll in and graduate from college is one way to end this cycle of intergenerational poverty, Zetino said.
To help with this, ALL in Education partnered with TNTP and created the Parent Educator Academy, an introductory leadership program that helps parents and caregivers increase their skills in helping their children navigate in-person and online classrooms, parents navigating school systems, and have agency in decisions being made on their children’s and their community’s behalf, Zetino said.
The parents and caregivers who have graduated from this program in 2020 and 2021 have shown improved confidence in helping their children with their homework and communicating with their children’s teachers, the principal and school board members, as well as increased ability to use email for educational needs, navigate online classrooms and knowledge about where and how to continue their own education, Zetino said.
“We’re identifying leaders and preparing them for seats of authority and power, and helping communities and families themselves hold those same leaders accountable to make the best decisions for our children and for our collective future,” Zetino said.
“This is truly about building a partnership between schools and families. Building bridges between the schoolhouse and the home,” Parra said.
The MAPA 2022 report is bold and important, said Carla Vargas Jasa, president and CEO of Valley of the Sun United Way.
“While the data may not be what we all want to hear right now, it’s what we need to hear in order to really make the moves that need to be made and create the right solutions together,” Vargas Jasa said. “Actionable solutions that we’re all accountable for.”
Legislation and policy are not just business or numbers, ‘it’s very personal. When a system robs your children, my children, our children of an education, you better bet it’s personal,” Villalobos said. “We need to do something about that.”
Education, business, and policy are all interconnected, but “the biggest problem is that we don’t speak the same language,” Villalobos said as she introduced a panel to discuss solutions from each of their perspectives.
Businesses need to ensure that they’re embracing the demographic shift, analyzing education data, and understanding that this is the “economic opportunity of our generation, and we have one chance to further fortify our economic position,” before an economic slide, said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
Businesses can “give support by pouring resources, being honest about the opportunity and driving a dialog about the future economy and the linkage between the education system and what it produces and that future economy,” Camacho said.
Camacho said when speaking to Dr. Chad Gestson, superintendent of Phoenix Union High School, about how to scale up more STEM pathways and academies for low-income students, he’s learned it’s not something that’s simple to do.
“As business people, we’re so used to being fixers, but there’s so many different complementary items that have to come together for us to enhance our delivery system,” Camacho said.
Arizona “can’t continue to grow like we have in building these innovation jobs and all of the jobs that are associated in this economy without that future workforce,” Camacho said.
Today’s students are tomorrow workforce, and “it’s that partnership between education and business to make sure we have what we need to keep the economy moving forward,” Villalobos said.
Many boards of philanthropies are “don’t reflect those that we are serving. They are disconnected from the reality,” said Adriana Murrietta, executive director of Pharos Foundation. “That takes away the urgency to get this done,”
“If you haven’t been an undocumented student sitting in a classroom in high school doing everything that you can to graduate” while being concerned about whether “your parents will make it home, because they are undocumented, you will never understand the urgency,” Murrietta said. “The lived experience is something that is missing in philanthropy.”
Some philanthropies are developing community councils with students, families, teachers who serve alongside their board.
The Pharos Foundation initially invested in a lot of plans and strategies, but now it’s seeking out “those incredible leaders who are breaking the mold, who are disruptive, who want to blow up the system because they are in our communities, and so we have shifted to investing in leadership,” Murrietta said. “Leaders, who come from the community who understand and have that urgency.”
Leticia de la Vara, chief of staff at TNTP (The New Teacher Partnership), challenged the ideas that “we only have one shot” and “this is our only time,” saying “As a parent, you never look at your child as you’ve got one shot to get it right. You make a mistake, and you get back up and you figure it out again.”
“Our teacher prep programs weren’t creating the teachers who looked like the kids,” de la Vara said. “We know a more diverse teaching body creates more opportunities for kids, creates more opportunities for kids of color to get into acceleration programs, to go onto college degrees.”
“But if our teacher prep pipelines aren’t bringing in the teachers who will be there, who will see that kid for more than their ZIP code, for more than their surname and realize they have potential above and beyond what other teachers may have seen, they will never get those opportunities,” de la Vara said.
We need to look at our college prep and community college teacher prep system as well as our K-12 school systems to see “where do they need to rise up, and as business communities, where do we need to lean in and say we will support programs to bring in more teachers of color, to bring in more candidates of color, and even look at the systems that are pushing them away,” de la Vara said.